Roger C. Carmel

Roger C. Carmel, who was born September 27, 1932, was named after his grandfather, Roger Charles, who carved the horses for the carousel in New York’s Central Park. He became an actor and won television immortality by appearing as Harry Mudd in two classic Star Trek: The Original Series (1966) episodes, “I, Mudd” and “Mudd’s Women” (Carmel was one of the few guest actors on Star Trek: The Original Series (1966) to appear in more than one episode as the same character).

After appearing on stage, Carmel began working steadily on television in the early 1960s as a character actor, appearing on both dramas (“Route 66”) and situation-comedies (The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961). In 1967, he was cast as the husband of Kaye Ballard’s character on NBC’s Desi Arnaz Productions’ sitcom The Mothers-In-Law (1967), Desi Arnazs first production since I Love Lucy (1951). NBC was disappointed by the mediocre ratings of The Mothers-In-Law (1967), and almost canceled it. It picked the show up for a second season after rival network ABC expressed interest in the show, but NBC informed Arnaz that they would not give any additional money for the show. Traditionally, salaries are increased when a TV show is picked up for a new season, and all the actors’ contracts specifically called for raises in the event of renewal. Arnaz, who was also producer, director, and writer, called together the cast and crew and told them that although the series had been renewed, there was no money for salary increases.

According to Carmel’s own recollection, Arnaz was already drawing down multiple salaries on the program, and would shortly cast himself as a supporting character in the series, thus drawing another salary, although Carmel didn’t know that at the time. Arnaz elicited a promise from the creative people, the crew and the actors to forgo salary increases to keep the show on the air. All the actors agreed but one. Carmel told Arnaz he would quit unless he received a raise, as per his contract. In a contemporaneous account of the incident, Carmel said, “Desi called me and put it on a personal basis. I didn’t feel it should be done that way – it was very unfair of him. Then Desi and the Morris Agency threatened I would be replaced. Kaye Ballard and Eve Arden also called me and asked me to go along, but I wouldn’t.”

Arnaz’s response to Carmel’s ultimatum was dismissive. “Where else is he going to make two thousand dollars a week?”, the producer asked rhetorically. If Arnaz’s Desilu production company gave in to Carmel, it would be faced with giving all the cast members a raise, which was financially unviable with the money on offer from NBC. Arnaz was forced to terminate Carmel, who was replaced by Richard Deacon for the second season. The show had poor ratings and was canceled following its second season.

After being fired from “The Mothers-in-Law”, Carmel’s acting career suffered. Other than his Harry Mudd appearances, Carmel’s most memorable gig on TV was as the very campy guest villain Colonel Gumm on Batman (1966) in 1967. He made regular appearances on the syndicated quiz TV show “Stump The Stars” from 1968-70. Carmel even reprised his most famous role, that of Harry Mudd, in an episode of the animated version of “Star Trek” (1973-75), an indicator of the direction of his future career. However, during the 1970s, he could not secure another regular role as an ongoing character on a TV series, though he continued to appear regularly on sitcoms, mostly in ethnic roles, including appearances on “All In The Family”, “Chico and The Man”, and “Three’s Company”. He also appeared in B-movie bombs, including the Jerry Lewis flop “Hardly Working” (1981).

At the dawn of the new decade of the 1980s, Carmel finally got another opportunity for the first time in a dozen years, when he was cast as a regular on the network program Fitz and Bones (1981). An hour-long drama starring the TV comedy-musical duo The Smothers Brothers as investigative reporters, the show was a ratings failure, lasting only one month. After this monumental flop (“Fitz and Bones” was the lowest-rated series for the entire 1981-82 season), character parts dried up and Carmel was reduced to doing voice-over work for children’s cartoons, including “The Transformers”.

Carmel’s last triumph as an actor was in commercials. He was a huge hit in advertising playing Senor Naugles, a faux-Mexican Colonel Sanders clone, for the West Coast region Mexican fast food chain Naugles. The commercials were a success and the chain began expanding rapidly. However, both the renewed success of Carmel and the fresh success of the chain were, sadly, to prove short-lived.

According to acquaintances, Carmel suffered chest pains on the night he died and called a cab to take him to the hospital. When the cab showed up at his Hollywood high-rise but Carmel did not come down to get it, the doorman sent the cab away, never inquiring why he failed to appear. Carmel was found dead on the floor of his apartment the next morning, November 11, 1986. While there were rumors that he committed suicide (he was rumored to be a recreational drug user), the official cause of death was listed as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle in which the organ becomes enlarged. The condition leads to congestive heart failure. Carmel was only 54 years old. He was interred in Glendale, New York.

After Carmel’s death, Naugles failed to come up with another successful ad campaign, and eventually, its financial fortunes changed. It was eventually acquired by rival, Del Taco.

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